Boo MoPete? Sam says he deserves standing ovation

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:41 AM ET

Air Canada Centre crowds are famous for giving former Raptors the business when they return to Toronto.

But head coach Sam Mitchell and all-star forward Chris Bosh are hoping that the ACC faithful will greet former Raptor Morris Peterson with a long and loud standing ovation when the Raptors host the New Orleans Hornets tonight.

Peterson returns to Toronto for the first time since signing as a free agent with the Hornets in the off-season. His departure was not unexpected, given that his minutes under Mitchell declined significantly last season (to 21.3 minutes per game as compared to 38.3 during the 2005-06 season). As did his numbers.

But the fact that he was a key part in three Raptors playoff teams, played seven seasons in Toronto, and still leads the franchise in games played (542), minutes (16,059) and three-pointers (801) demonstrates to his former mates that he holds a special place in Raptors history.

"I hope so, because he deserves it," said Mitchell, when asked if he expects a nice ovation for Peterson tonight. "Mo played hard here."

"He did a lot of things for the organization," Bosh said. "He was fan favourite and I think a lot of people will be really excited to see him play."

Mitchell winced at the suggestion that his relationship with Peterson soured last season as Peterson's minutes and numbers dropped. The coach said nothing could be further from the truth. He said Peterson's minutes last season and departure from Toronto were strictly business decisions.

"MoPete is one of my favourite people," Mitchell said.

"Mo is one of my favourite players. He was with me when I first got here, we went through a lot of tough times together. I felt like Mo was one of the guys in that locker room who was on my side. He supported me. I couldn't always give him what he wanted, but I had the utmost respect for Mo, and I think Mo had the same for me. And I'm glad that he's with a good coach (Byron Scott), a good organization and with a good team. I'm happy for Mo. And I hope they do well except for when they play us."

Mitchell said that he always tries to get across to his players that any decisions he makes in terms of playing time, etc, is based simply on how they play.

"I wish I could give them all $10 million a year, and give them all 40 minutes a game. I really would," Mitchell said. "But the reality of it is, I can't. I have tough decisions to make, and I have a job to do and I'm going to make it. And it's not about like or dislike. It's about, on certain nights, if you're not playing well, you have to sit down."

Tonight's contest against the surprising Hornets (49-22) represents the final Western Conference opponent for the Raptors (37-35). The Raptors will have their hands full trying to contain guard Chris Paul, who is having an MVP calibre season.

"The people here in Toronto ... if they remember (former Raptors executive VP) Isiah Thomas back in his early days (as a player with the Detroit Pistons), he has been the second coming of (Thomas)," Hornets coach Byron Scott said of Paul. "That's who I compared him to when we drafted him, and he hasn't let me down. He reminds me so much of (Thomas) ... his confidence, his tenacity, his baby-face look. But he has that assassin mentality. If he is not the best point guard right now in this league, he's in the top two or three.

"As I said earlier, I think he is the MVP, along with maybe Kobe Bryant," Scott added.


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